Earlier in the year, I wrote an article describing my experience at the FedEx Forum, the arena where the Grizzlies play in Memphis. My reaction was overwhelmingly positive, as I loved the arena and the fans. The article took off among Memphians, and I'd encourage you to check it out for a Oklahoma City perspective on the fan experience in Memphis.
Having recently gone to Memphis, I feel like I'm in a unique position when it comes to responding to a recent article by Jonathan Louis May of Grizz Grind. His account of the Peake is largely negative, and his article has gotten a pretty massive response from the Thunder community at large. It's kind of like one of those videos that goes viral through word of mouth. Everyone loves to read it, get angry, and get an opinion.
Thus, aside from having been to Memphis and having attended Thunder and Hornets games since the beginning, I don't really have an opinion or perspective that could trump anybody else's. Regardless, I think for the sake of all of our sanity, it would be good to go through the article and do a point-by-point response to some of the things that he's said about the Peake. It's good therapy, might give us a bit of a reality check, and is better than looking as some of the nasty things said on Twitter.
Point 1: The "Ghost Town" Around the Arena
Here, he has kind of a point. Oklahoma City isn't exactly known for its' downtown liveliness, especially during the day. There are few serious apartment buildings, and most people just live in the suburbs and commute to the city. So, if you happen to hit downtown, or more specifically Bricktown, at an off hour, the whole place can seem kind of dead. It's kind of like a miniature city built only for times of recreation. But if you go there at the right time, the place can be pretty bustling. Just not at 9:30 on a Sunday morning. I'm still in bed.
Point 2: No Basketball IQ
It's true that there are a lot of clueless fans at Thunder games, as with any arena. But if you sit in the right place, you'll find knowledgeable dudes. In my section, I sit behind two guys who practically have the NBA rule book memorized. I used to sit in front of a guy who loved to act as an "armchair coach", noticing certain things about how players were doing. Further up in my section, there's another guy I talk to who's been going to NBA games regularly since the early 70s.
Are Thunder fans less knowledgeable than Grizz fans? Probably. In the FedEx Forum, I was shocked at how well some people knew the game. But, there are some factors to consider. For one, Memphis has had basketball longer. I know, the Grizzlies have only been there since 2001. But they've also had the highly successful Memphis Tigers, who have been a national championship threat since the early 80s. It helps that the Tigers have played in the same arena as the Grizz for all of the latter's existence, and that resale tickets to Grizzly games are way cheaper than tickets to Thunder games. So it's more likely that the basketball diehards are able to go, rather than the casual fan with more expendable income. Lastly, the Oklahoma City local media, by and large, still talk in huge generalities about the team, so they're not helping the fan base get any smarter.
I'm not trying to diss on Thunder fans in any way. All I'm really saying is that you need to give it time.
Point 3: "The Cult" and Artificial Crowd Noise
The first point he makes about the Thunder's crowd is their "cult" like behavior when it comes to cheering. Believe me, you haven't seen cult-like behavior until you've been at a Japanese baseball game. There, certain sections are led in completely organized chants, while other sections literally aren't allowed to cheer. But, I digress.
Yes, Thunder fans are real suckers for getting egged on to cheer, myself included. But I'm pretty sure the majority of that goes on while coming out of time outs. During the game, the crowd is all on its own. And they cheer for what excites them, like dirty blocks, insane dunks, and clutch threes. You know, like any other arena. The biggest thing I'll commend them on is that they get just as excited during the second quarter as they do during the fourth. In Memphis, I didn't notice fans really getting riled up until the game was on the line.
May also approached the issue from the "it gets really quiet" perspective. And yeah, it does. The Thunder just aren't as exciting as they were with Russell Westbrook, and everybody's a bit worried. So when things start to go wrong and the Thunder don't go on runs, the crowd gets quiet. But they'll amp up again once things are going well. I don't really understand the value of constantly shouting while nothing's going on.
He also talked about artificial crowd noise being pumped in. I don't know if it's true, but if it is true, the Thunder are just like tons of other pro sports franchises who do the same. And the crowd gets just as loud during times when the artificial crowd noise couldn't possibly be on, so I'm not too concerned about it.
Point 4: No Booing?
Come to OKC when Metta World Peace or Patrick Beverley is in town. 'Nuff said. Also, opposing fans have been put up on the screen to be booed before.
Point 5: No Stat Board
Having no stat board really sucks, and I hate it. The stats/NBA scores are up there, but they're interrupted during time outs, and they're interrupted by ads flashing on the screens. Really glad we have screens up there instead of light-up boards....ah, the wonders of technology.
Point 6: Oklahomans Are Polite
If there's one thing that separates Oklahoma City from the rest of the world, I think it's that everybody in town is just incredibly friendly. People will always hold open doors for you, total strangers will ask how you're doing, and cars will always stop to let you walk across the street. Personally, I really enjoy it, but it can make for some non-threatening sports fans. Oh well. It's better than getting cursed out and insulted, like I was in Boston and San Antonio.
Point 7: No Noise on the Way Out
It's like 3 o'clock on a Sunday, which is a terrible time to have a basketball game. So the filing out was probably a bit subdued compared to what you'd see on a Friday night. There's also not a lot of entertainment going on immediately outside the arena, like there is at the FedEx Forum.
Point 8: The Music is Terrible
Music is a matter of taste. I enjoyed the music at the FedEx Forum, because it had a distinct local flavor. But I also really enjoy the Thunder music, because even if it's really cheesy, it's always designed to get the crowd hyped up. Except the horrible indie-rock version of "Oklahoma" that they play. But, again, that's just a matter of taste.
Point 9: Thunder Fans are Spoiled
Duh? Oklahomans are spoiled sports fans in general. Go and look at the attendance of an OU Football game during an 8-5 season. It's deplorable. But you can't really knock Oklahoma City for what they haven't even experienced. If I remember correctly, attendance in Memphis was horrible until the Grizzlies started doing well. The same goes true anywhere. But, so far, Oklahoma City's basketball track record is good. They consistently showed up to watch a 23 win Thunder team, and they held strong attendance during the Hornets' two years in Oklahoma City, one of which was a rebuilding year and the other of which was a injury-riddled disappointment. Oklahoma City is a small market, so dark days will come. And we'll see when we get there. But as for now, the Thunder have one of the loudest and most passionate crowds in the league.
May basically concludes the article by saying that Memphis is great because it's consistently loud, suffered through bad teams, knows basketball well, and will boo opposing fans.
He's certainly entitled to his opinion, and there's no real way that either of us could change each other's opinions. People like their own team's atmosphere better than others. But I will go on record as saying that his criticism of Oklahoma City, overall, is pretty unjustly founded. He spends the entire article nitpicking at things like when the crowd cheers, how the crowd cheers, what the fans know, and et cetera. I think he's missing the larger picture.
What's important to me is that the fans are passionate. And Thunder fans certainly fit the bill. If you're not convinced by the crowd noise, why don't you check out downtown? Literally the entire place is decorated in Thunder blue. I can go anywhere in the metro area and talk to anyone about the Thunder. It unifies the community, and brings out the best in all of us. Who cares if the guy sitting next to me knows what a pick and roll is, or whether Gangnam Style is playing over the loud speakers? Everyone's helping to cheer on one of the best basketball teams in the world.
And I'll also go on record that the Thunder still have one of the best, if not the best crowd in the NBA. Those who hate on how the Peake has gotten "quieter" recently have obviously never been to snorehouses like Miami, Dallas, or Denver. Memphis is up there, but as May himself admits, it can't compete with the noise level of Oklahoma City. Even if it's inconsistent, it's there, and I don't think any other arena, save for maybe the Oracle, has that level of excitement for their team right now.
What do you think of May's article, or my response? Let us know in the comments!